Something I spend time thinking about is how to gauge influence on social networks and how to gauge the impact social networks have in propagating ideas, content and ultimately in the commercial sense–clicks.
In full disclosure, I think about this from two perspectives-1) as a professional working at CBS News and charged with helping to grow audience in no small part by leveraging social networks and 2) as a straight up user of social media who would love for people to be active on this blog, view my You Tube channel (maybe not that so much) etc.
So, I can go into my Twitter and be pleasantly surprised that I have 1200+ followers. I can go onto Facebook and see that I have 700+ friends. I can go onto Plurk and realize I have 150+ fans and friends. I can hit up Friend Feed and see 350+ friends. But what does it all mean, outside of the fact that I am not the only one with too much free time? (As an aside, one day I would love to figure out how much overlap there is).
So, the question then is I am able to reach 2500+ people on any one of several social networks, but what do they think of my message? and how do I measure the value of my contributions? And then how does the way I influence my network mimic the way CBS News Twitter influences the 1.5 million followers it has, or the 73,000+ that Katie Couric has on her follower list (after all this is my bread and butter, right?)
For that answer, fortunately the smart folks at the Harvard Business Review have some thoughts, and its more than just a straight up numbers game. HBR did a follow-up on some great thoughts and research by Adi Avint from August 2009. His “Million Followers Fallacy” post opines that just the number of followers a user has is not a true indication of their reach. Yes, a million people may read your thoughts 140 characters at a time–but given the nature of Twitter, probably not.
Instead, HBR suggests looking more at @ mentions and re-tweets as a better gauge of influence. Meeyoung Cha opines that follower count as a stand-alone metric is a popularity contest, and not a true measure of influence.
follower count is not sufficient to capture the influence of a user (i.e., the ability of an user to sway the opinions of her followers). It only shows how popular the user is (i.e., the size of her audience). But, as we showed in our paper, retweets and mentions, which measure the audience responsiveness to a user’s tweets, do not correlate strongly with number of followers.
I have long argued that Twitter is more about conversation-and being responsive to what the people I follow post and more importantly be able to control the information flow that I consumer and tap into a stream of personal interest. That can be Mets updates from a variety of sources, or the latest on the Islanders–the value of Twitter to me is the connection to information I am searching for, in real-time and in a passive state (all I have to do is open up a Twitter client on my laptop or mobile device).
Now I work for a major mass media news organization–and there is little doubt of the influence that CBS News will have on today’s news and ongoing stories throughout the news cycle. But for me, Twitter (and the others listed) are more about niche topics and that is where the true value of Twitter comes from.
Cha says early research shows smaller publishers and smaller business-not just collecting followers have a competitive advantage:
But when it comes to non-popular or even niche topics, small businesses and opinion leaders were far more effective in engaging audience than mass media.
But the true measure of influence is still a work in progress. Twitter is an easy study because of the open nature of the platform–but is simply counting RT’s and @’s enough to say “A” is more influential than “C”? Because it’s a matter of what the interaction is.
The interesting Twitter data though comes from a different (June 2009) HBR study–the 10% most prolific Twitter users are responsible for 90% of the Tweets.
Which can lead to an easy conclusion that Twitter is a great content filter, able to sort through a cacophony of data. Yes, some of it is gossipy, and yes there are still those who want (or need) the validation of the million follower club…
But the goal has to be engagement–both personally and professionally. Imagine the folks at NASCAR if they read my Tweet taking a swipe at NASCAR:
Knowing their social media strategy is to fan me up–and follow me?
It’s not the follower count, but the message. As Mel Karmazin once said (in my presence at a meeting), “Content is King,” it’s up to us to maximize its value–and engage our audience.